Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Crosbie Walsh problem

Comment is free, as legendary Guardian editor C.P. Scott once famously quipped, but facts are sacred. The problem begins when a commenter cannot get his facts straight. How much stock should we then put in his comments? He gets his wires crossed, doesn’t double check, or relies on secondary sources. (Perhaps, like Grubby Davis, he even relies on hearsay and gossip in making ad hominem attacks on a certain messenger.) He may be guilty of all of the above. But that doesn’t stop him from viciously attacking someone who does get his facts straight and actually does his job very well. Perhaps, because the commenter is in his “golden years,” he thinks he is above criticism and knows better than everybody else. I suspect that “all of the above” may apply to Crosbie Walsh.

The retired political science professor, who lives in New Zealand, has become increasingly acquiescent in his support of Fiji’s interim government since admitting last month to taking a free trip to Suva at their expense. While once his blog offerings at Fiji: The Way it Was, Is and Can Be were somewhat even-handed and occasionally even questioned the interim government’s actions, they have become increasingly one-sided. Now they are almost an extension of MINFO, even laughably running weather bulletins during the recent visit of Cyclone Evan, perhaps with the expectation that worried Fijians would go there first for information. As if to weakly fill some quota, Old Croz has taken to running speeches from the recent Attorney-General’s conference, publishing government press releases, and even reprinting Xmas messages from first the President and then the Prime Minister.


My favorite was the double offering earlier this month from someone named G. Larson (although one was first credited to a G Lawson). “How Laws are Made in Bainimarama's Fiji,” cited the Media Decree as an example of wide government consultations.What the Judiciary Can and Cannot Do,” claimed that the courts cannot strike down laws. As I was then having to be careful about blogging or commenting on blogs under my own name, I was moved to post comments on these entries anonymously, which I am normally loath to do. I asked about G. Larson/Lawson’s legal credentials and never did get an answer from Croz, who instead questioned mine. (I was a legal affairs journalist for 10 years.) I pointed out that the draft Media Decree was delivered with only two hours notice before responses were due. Judicial review, I noted, is a legal process that allows judges around the world to overturn laws that are arbitrary, capricious, vague, or inconsistent with higher laws, such as a country’s constitution. Now that I am safely out of Fiji, just a step or two ahead of Yash Ghai, I can blog again and comment under my own name. I will be doing so with increased frequency.


Walsh’s blog has come in for considerable criticism from those who long for democracy to return to Fiji. He has actually done some scholarly research on the blog phenomenon, however, so he should know what he's doing. In 2010, Walsh published a journal article comparing his blog and the anti-government Coup 4.5 (no conflict there) and providing a comprehensive listing of Fiji's 72 then-known political blogs. He disputed the contention by some that Fiji’s freedom blogs are “expressions of democracy in the face of censorship and repression by Fiji’s military-led government.”
The anti-government blogs, hailed by coup opponents as advocates of democracy, are little more than agents of uncritical dissent that at this point in time looks to be leading neither to the imperfect democracy of yesterday nor the promised democracy of tomorrow.
As Croz noted, whether Fiji’s freedom blogs are an expression of democracy “depends, of course, on how one defines democracy in Fiji.” Some, of course, believe that true democracy is neither extant nor even possible, instead coming at best in the guise of technocracy, in which the propaganda machine “manufactures” consent for government policies, or mediaocracy, in which the populace is both controlled and distracted by a compliant media, including blogs. Propaganda, of course, is practiced largely through disinformation, as Croz himself has pointed out. Spreading false and distorted information is widely used as a technique to discredit regime critics in Fiji, as I know from personal experience, but to be effective it must be artfully done and not easily refuted, or the public will see through it. Counterpropaganda, such as I have been engaged in recently, is aimed at exposing disinformation.

Which brings me to Professor Walsh’s blog entry of yesterday. In it, he attacked Radio Australia journalist Bruce Hill, who is one of the few reporters who covers the Pacific critically, for his interview with outgoing constitution commission chair Yash Ghai. In it, Hill managed to get Ghai to confirm rumours rampant on the blogs that printed copies of the draft constitution had been seized by the government and burned. It turns out, as usual, that there was some truth and some exaggeration to the rumours. Yes, the press run of 600 copies had been seized by police, but only a few “proof” copies used for making corrections were actually burned. Yet the account provided in the telephone interview with Ghai was extremely vivid and a scoop of major proportions for Hill. As Ghai recalled: “I was saying ‘Why are you setting it on fire?’”
They brought a tin of kerosene and spread all the papers, brought some stick with a flame at the end and started the burning of it, and every few minutes or seconds they would come and put another dose of kerosene, so the flames would rise up again until everything was reduced to ashes.
Walsh, in his capacity as Chief Apologist for the regime, found the interview “inflammatory” (pun intended). He published a transcript on his blog, which was annoted with his comments. He highlighted in bold, italics, and underlining where he thought the interview was inflammatory (no pun intended), questionable, or mistaken. He quibbled with Ghai’s legal status, now that his commission has run its course, and he objected to the interview’s focus on the imagery of incineration. But most of all he objected to Hill’s choice of questions in drawing the story out of Ghai. “It shows how a supposedly neutral interviewer reveals his true colours,” complained Croz.
No one could possibly be in doubt about his feelings during the Yash Ghai interview. There was no attempt at neutrality. He provided a grossly inadequate background, did not challenge Prof Ghai on some matters that should have been questioned, and towards the end of the interview when talking about the "burning" incident he asked a string of heavy loaded leading questions.
As evidence of bias, he pointed to a comment Hill purportedly made in introducing his recorded interview with Ghai. “Predictably the regime has not responded to the allegations.” There is only one small problem with that quote. Hill never said it. Walsh was obviously working off the version published by Coup 4.5. Here’s what Hill said:
“The Fiji interim government has so far not responded to the allegations.”
That was obviously a bit too bland for the mad bombers at C4.5, who perhaps thought it was OK to spice up the copypasta by adding “predictably” and changing the regime’s preferred “interim government” to . . . well, “regime.” I pointed out to Croz in a comment posted on his blog before I discovered the above discrepancy that from visiting with Bruce and his producers in their Melbourne studios recently I found they bend over backwards to be fair to Fiji. No doubt this is as a result of numerous complaints which have issued from the regime and its apologists. What Croz seems to object to most is the imagery Hill evoked with the burning of the proofs of the draft constitution. Believe me, any world-class journalist would have done the same. That Walsh would argue he should not have played up that aspect of the story, which was big enough to make the ABC television news, only betrays his own bias. Judging by the other comments on Walsh's blog entry, he may have lost any credibility he once enjoyed. My advice to Croz: “I suggest you quit before you become even more of a laughing stock.” Obviously as thin-skinned as the regime he relentlessly defends and perhaps as understanding of the essential role censorship plays in propaganda, Walsh deleted by comment as "offensive," while he left up one that referred to his wife as a "slut." To my mind, that makes him a shameless censor in addition to a puppet propagandist.

Now I have some more advice for you, Croz. You owe Bruce Hill an apology. Brutally frank, perhaps, but someone had to say it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Press freedom guaranteed, but only if. . . .

Press freedom is guaranteed in the proposed Bill of Rights contained in the draft constitution that was delivered by Yash Ghai and his team last week. For press freedom to become a reality in Fiji, however, the document lists provisions of the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree and other laws made by the interim government that must be repealed. The draft constitution’s freedom of expression guarantees are almost identical to those contained in the 1997 constitution, with a couple of additions, including academic freedom (wouldn't that be nice?) and "freedom of imagination." Here’s the new section.
Article 27  Freedom of expression, publication and media

(1) Everyone has freedom of expression and publication, which includes––
(a) freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas;
(b) freedom of the press, including print, electronic and other media;
(c) freedom of imagination and creativity; and
(d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
The subsequent limiting section is considerably different from that contained in the 1997 constitution, however. (NOTE: A listing of allowable limitations on freedom of expression that was dropped from the 1997 constitution has been deleted, as those limitations are allowed for elsewhere in the draft constitution.) The 1997 constitution’s hate speech provision has been retained in the draft constitution, but with reference to a longer list of prohibited types of discrimination. Under Article 21 (3), discrimination is prohibited on the basis of 20 categories: “birth, age, ethnicity, social origin, race, colour, primary language, religion, conscience, belief, culture, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, disability, social status or economic status.” That compares to the dozen types of discrimination prohibited in the 1997 constitution: “race, ethnic origin, colour, place of origin, gender, sexual orientation, birth, primary language, economic status, age or disability; or opinions or beliefs.” Here’s the complete limiting section.
(2) Freedom of expression and publication does not protect–
(a) propaganda for war;
(b) incitement to violence or insurrection against this Constitution; or
(c) advocacy of hatred that––
(i) is based on any prohibited ground of discrimination listed or contemplated in Article 21 (3); and
(ii) constitutes incitement to cause harm.
(NOTE: An extraneous subsection to this article appeared earlier by mistake and has been deleted.)
Licensing of media is allowed in the draft constitution only for the allocation of broadcasting frequencies. Other media, it explicitly states, "must not be subject to licensing." Procedures for regulating the airwaves, it adds, "must be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests." Article 57 Regulation of public media begins by stating: "Free and open discussion and dissemination of ideas is essential in a democratic society." State-owned media, it goes on to state, "are free to determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications independent of political or government control." State-owned media must be impartial, it adds, and must allow divergent views and dissenting opinions. In an apparent swipe at the Media Decree's unilateral regulation of media content, the draft constitution explicity reserves that power for elected legislators, stating: "An Act of Parliament must establish a body to set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards." Such a body must be independent of government control and political or commercial interests, according to the draft constitution, and must "reflect the interests of all sections of the society." Candidates and political parties contesting an election, states Article 60 Campaigning, may not be denied reasonable access to state-owned media.

In a separate Explanatory Report, the constitution commission states that  laws that are inconsistent with its proposed Bill of Rights would have to be repealed or amended, including the Media Decree, the Television Decree, and the State Proceedings Amendment Decree. Included in the sections of the Media Decree to be repealed is the controversial Section 8, which vaguely prohibits publication of anything "against public interest or order, or national interest, or which offends against good taste or decency and creates communal discord." As Shailendra Singh pointed out, "what is for or against the public interest can be a highly debatable issue."
The government can have one view, the opposition another and the media an entirely different one. Some believe plurality of views is healthy for Fiji. Others believe Fiji needs a benevolent dictatorship. But the question remains: Will a newspaper be guilty of a crime if it were to carry a strident editorial opposed to the government’s stand on an issue concerning the national interest?
Also to be dropped from the Media Decree under the draft constitution would be the Media Code of Ethics and Practice, under which journalists are now subject to sanction for what were once ethical guidelines. So is the provision that decisions under the decree may not be appealed to the courts, which the constitution commission has taken a dim view of generally. "The aim is that everyone will have physical access to a court, and to an appeal to a higher level of court," it states in the Explanatory Report. Also to be repealed is the provision of the 2012 Television Decree that prevents stations from going to court to appeal the lifting of their licence by the government. So is the section of the 2012 State Proceedings Amendment Decree which grants government ministers and media outlets immunity from defamation lawsuits for making or publishing defamatory statements.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Who is Truncated Lounge?

Fiji's most entertaining letter writer has gone mainstream. That is, if you consider the Discombobulated Bubu blog mainstream. The fictitous correspondence between Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns and regime propagandist Graham Davis is side-splitting hilarious. I was lucky enough to get on the email distribution list early on. The missives come from someone who calls himself Truncated Lounge. The first mention I can find of them online came from pro-regime blogger Crosbie Walsh, who has become Crazy Welsh in the letters. Croz mentioned in a comment of 6 October that he had received "a cleverly written but insulting email." My favorite blog commenter, Graham is a sellout, then pasted the letter into the comments section of Walsh's blog, but disavowed authorship, claiming he had also received it by email. He urged the octagenarian Kiwi to lighten up. "In defence it clearly says this is a spoof so stop being so prim and proper for once Croz and have a laugh." At first the letters showed up once a week. With the crisis in constitutional consulations that hit Fiji in November, however, they started coming daily. My favorite passage was in the letter of 26 October.
The boys in green had a good idea to save money. They decided that if all prisoners only had one leg they would not be able to escape. So they have just tested it out and amputated the leg of one of the BSP bank robbers. In theory it is a great idea but as ever they don’t think things through properly. They are now going to have to add an extra 2 feet to every prison wall in Fiji because as we saw in the Olympics one legged Fijians are the best jumpers.
I simply had to reply to that one and used my best reporter's skills to try and learn TL's identity, but he refused to be outed.
I prefer to remain anonymous. I am a Fijian with only a Fijian passport and I need to work here in Fiji. But I am frustrated by ex pats teling us what to do and this little letter is really a way to vent my frustrations.

I have been hounded out of Fiji

Did I jump, or was I pushed?

Let's just say it was a little bit of both. I was certainly pushed. To the Edge, you might say. In the end, I decided it would be better to make an orderly exit from Fiji than to be bundled off kicking and screaming under a deportation order. Unfortunately, this blog made things a little bit too hot for me with the country's military dictatorship. It complained endlessly about entries that questioned media-related decrees, such as the TV Decree, and more recently about my efforts to shine some light on the regime's propaganda machine. It even complained about a joke I told about regime propagandist Qorvis Communications and then about a funny email that I forwarded. The email was the latest installment in the satirical "Shazzer and Grubby" series of fictitous love letters between chief propagandist Sharon Smith-Johns and blowhard blogger Graham Davis. As this one involved me, I thought certain people would like to read it. I particularly enjoyed this passage.
“Shazzer, my flaming Goddess.” You addressed me in your whiney little boy voice. “Professor Edge has been mean to me. He has been saying nasty things about me and writing them on his blog. He has been weally, weally mean and I can’t shut him up and he just ignores my award winning attacks on him. I don’t think he knows I won a Walkley and a Logie otherwise he would treat me with more respect. Perhaps no one has heard of them outside of Tasmania.” You got down on your knees before me and continued. “Pwease my bwutiful goddess will you get him sacked and deported. Send him back to Canada.”
Happily, these riotous letters are now being published on the Discombobulated Bubu blog, with some dandy illustrations added. The identity of the author has become the subject of intense speculation in Fiji. He calls himself Truncated Lounge (I infer the gender from his email address), and we have struck up a correspondence. He is rightly guarded about anything that might give himself away. We are united in our drive to destroy Shazzer and Grubby through mirth, if there is no other way. Regime cyberbully Davis, of course, was the main agent of my downfall with his constant carping about my advocacy for press freedom, media and democracy, journalism standards, etc. I seem to have become an obsession for Davis, as I have been all he has been able to blog about for two months. First he got my scalp, but that wasn't enough. He wanted my head, and he put enough pressure on that he got it. But two can play at that game. Stay tuned for the revenge. Turnabout, as they say, is fair play. Then you can look forward to buying the book. I am told that it might even be a movie. If so, I want Tom Cruise to play me. But who should play Grubby? Surely someone suitably villainous. Suggestions?

But the nail in my proverbial coffin likely came from old Crosbie Walsh, whose recent junket to Suva drew a rebuke in the last blog entry I dared post before exiting the country. Well, except for the cryptic comic book cover that signaled my existential struggle, and a dandy shot of Cyclone Evan as it ravaged the islands. Old Croz announced that the Fiji government had paid his way to Suva for a visit so he could write about it on his blog, then seemed surprised when some, including me, pointed out the conflict of interest this created. According to Croz, I did not have the right to criticise him because . . . well, because he's somehow above criticism and, more importantly, he has the dictator on his side. Others, he pointed out, had been thrown out of the country for less. "He is on a work permit issued by the Fiji government he constantly criticises, and a significant portion of his salary is paid for by the Fiji Government," scolded the regime's Chief Apologist. "He is not a citizen and is a relative newcomer to Fiji. If I were similarly placed, I would listen and say little."

Well, let's just say that when this came to the attention of the powers that be, my days in Fiji were numbered. The cretins in the regime don't like criticism, either. But here's the delicious irony. They think they can get rid of the problem I created for them by getting rid of me. But they are so intellectually challenged that they can't think more than one move ahead. As long as I was in Fiji, they had some control over me. I had to maintain at least a modicum of respect for a regime for which I have none. Now, the gloves will be off. I can blog as often as I want about anything I want. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will now be Commodore Frankly Bananas, as Truncated Lounge so delicously labeled the Tinpot Dictator. I have re-posted my entry of November 1, "Who/what is Qorvis Communications," which I took down after a demand to do so by Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns. I will have much to say about this Aussie she-devil in coming weeks, as her reign of terror over Fiji media simply must end if there is to be any hope for democracy in that benighted Pacific outpost. Luckily the banned blog entry lived on thanks to Fiji Today, which aggregates almost anything of interest in Fiji politics. I am also posting an entry I wrote at the height of the assault on me in mid-November, "Who is Truncated Lounge," but dared not publish while I was still in the country. And I have a half dozen fresh entries in the hopper which I will post over the next few weeks. I will be making Fiji media a research interest of mine wherever I wind up teaching next, and I have ideas for several journal articles, not to mention the promised book, which will be titled Fiji Media Wars: The Story of a Blog.

I have proudly joined the ranks of Fiji Freedom Bloggers. Hang on tight. This is gonna be fun!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Croz admits he's also on the gravy train

The spinmeisters at Qorvis Communications are likely holding their heads in their hands and moaning today. It must be so frustrating when your would-be foot soldiers break the first rule of propaganda. Maybe they think that transparency will purify them and make their blog postings more believable. Instead it will probably have the opposite effect and make them much more easy to dismiss. C'mon guys! It's like the First Rule of Fight Club. YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB!!!

First it was blowhard blogger Grubby Davis who outed himself in September as a consultant to Qorvis, the U.S. public relations firm with the dodgy record that specialises in whitewashing authoritarian regimes worldwide. Grubby now enjoys weekly excursions to Suva from his home in Australia, no doubt flying first class and staying at the Holiday Inn, for consultations with Qorvis and MINFO. All of which would of course be ultimately paid for by Fiji taxpayers, however indirectly. [NOTE: The previous sentence was amended at the request of both Graham Davis and the Fiji government. The original version may have suggested that the Fiji government directly pays the expenses of Mr. Davis to fly to Suva weekly. FMW regrets any incorrect inference, Ed.]

Now it's retired USP professor Crosbie Walsh, who blogs from New Zealand at Fiji: The Way it Is, Was and Can Be. Croz admitted yesterday that he took a free trip to Suva recently at Fiji government expense so he could take the pulse of the nation in the midst of consultations on a new (maybe) constitution.
The Ministry of Information paid my travel costs, five days accommodation at Holiday Inn, they provided a vehicle to take me around, and gave me the temporary use of a tape recorder and a “dongle” to avoid the hotel's high charge for internet access. Vinaka, Sharon, Sharleen, Don and the three drivers, especially Freddie.
The founding head of Development Studies at USP promises a series of blog posts resulting from this visit, during which he interviewed all and sundry about the progress being made on the road to democracy in Fiji.
I talked with the PM for a long 40 minutes, the Attorney-General and two Cabinet ministers, four permanent secretaries, Prof Yash Ghai and two other members of the Constitution Commission, and people from business, Qorvis, the NZ High Commission, the universities, the trade unions, the military, two NGOs involved in constitution education, the media (Fiji Times and Fiji Sun), the judiciary, the religious community, and one chief, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.
Well, almost all and sundry. "I did not attempt to meet any of the leaders of the old political parties," he admitted, "because their views are already well known and I thought I'd gain nothing from interviewing them." This is where the problems begin with him accepting what's called a "junket" in the journalism world. For whatever reason, Croz apparently did not even attempt to get the opposing view to those of his benefactors in government, which are also doubtless well known to him. And to believe that his reports would be untainted by his hosts' largesse really stretches credulity.

Now, there are different opinions out there about Old Croz. Pacific Scoop has a page devoted to him that is practically a shrine. Fiji Democracy Now, not so much. It has hung him with an unflattering nickname and archives his greatest hits under More biased opinions from Crosbie Walsh. To be fair, Croz does not always come down on the side of Fiji's interim government. He criticized the Essential Industries Decree, which has endangered Fiji's duty free status in the U.S., from its introduction a year ago. He repeated just last month his opinion that the decree "undermined national trade unions [and] exposed workers to the whims of employers."

He also, to his credit, urged the lifting of censorship more than a year ago while martial law was still being imposed under the Public Emergency Regulation. "If genuine dialogue is to take place on the constitutional and electoral reforms," wrote Croz last June, "media censorship will have to be lifted." In fact, he urged the government to lift the PER completely, which it finally did six months later. That wasn't based on it being the right thing to do, however, but instead on the political capital the government would gain as a result. "These measures – and particularly the lifting of media restrictions – would win them immeasurable support and confound their opponents."

There is no doubt that Croz wields considerable influence on foreign opinion concerning Fiji, and perhaps on domestic opinion as well. No wonder MINFO was eager to bring him up here and show him around. As long as he didn't talk to the opposition, of course. Those who consider his opinions should now take into account whether he is independent or biased. Croz claims in his blog aims that his blog is balanced.
This blog is unusual in aiming to present a balanced and helpful presentation of events in Fiji as they relate to the post-2006 military coup or takeover, and ideas on how Fiji may move forward to the election of a truly representative government serving all the people of Fiji.
Sorry, Croz. That just doesn't fit with what you've done. As any first-year journalism student knows (mine certainly do), you will not have any credibility if you do not maintain independence from those you write about. From now on it will be hard not to believe that you, like Graham Davis, are  beholden to the Fiji government.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Who/what is Qorvis Communications?

Fiji's endangered duty free status in the U.S. has apparently upped the stakes in the interim government's high-priced PR campaign, with Courfourpointfive reporting that the monthly stipend paid to Washington-based spin doctors Qorvis Communications for services rendered has soared from US$40,000 to US$150,000 per month. It might thus be appropriate to look at the kinds of services Qorvis renders. The more I learn about these rascals, the more I suspect that I've been a victim of their black ops.

Human rights advocate Thor Halvorssen chronicled for the Huffington Post last year the types of activities Qorvis engages in on behalf of governments in the Middle East. Much of it involves social media such as Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. According to Halvorssen, Qorvis uses phony social media accounts to conduct smear campaigns against critics of repressive regimes. "Most of the U.S.-based fake tweeting, fake blogging (flogging), and online manipulation is carried out from inside Qorvis Communication's 'Geo-Political Solutions' division," noted Halvorssen. "The effort is mechanical and centrally organized."
More so than intimidation, violence, and disappearances, the most important tool for dictatorships across the world is the discrediting of critics. . . . Oppressive governments are threatened by public exposure, and this means that it's not just human rights defenders but also bloggers, opinion journalists, and civil society activists who are regularly and viciously maligned
The American Independent detailed some of Qorvis' efforts in promoting Fiji, noting that it is "deeply involved in managing the online and social media activities" of the government. Its cyberpromotion includes websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds, according to disclosures required to be made by Qorvis under the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). 
“WHOIS” lookups of domain name registration information reveal that “,” “,” “,” “,” and “” were registered by Qorvis employees, although the sites offer no disclosure of Qorvis’ involvement. The FARA filing also listed three Twitter accounts — @FijiPM, @FijiAG and @FijiRepublic — under “activities conducted by registrant.”
The latest targets of such social media messages have been in the U.S. as a result of recent hearings held to decide on revoking Fiji's free trade status after protests by trade union groups. Fiji’s Qorvis-linked Twitter accounts, according to the American Independent, have "played an active role in promoting pro-government news articles, often published by the government owned Fiji Broadcasting Corporation."
The tweets, like many of those issued by accounts linked to Qorvis, frequently target their messages to Twitter accounts affiliated with the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, both institutions which have been critical of Fiji’s military coup government. . . . Qorvis’ management of such accounts, without disclosing their involvement on the Twitter accounts or websites, would fit with the consultancy’s history of being less than transparent in the work done on behalf of foreign clients.
The FARA disclosure shows that Qorvis has provided "fact sheets" to various parties, including Australian blogger Grubby Davis. It has also been successful in getting pro-Fiji news stories published by the overseas press. It arranged a visit to Fiji by reporter Ginanne Brownell of fDi Magazine,  which is owned by The Financial Times Ltd and edited in London. That resulted in such stories as "Promise of democracy opens up investment opportunities in Fiji," and "Fiji PM looks to forge a central role within south Pacific."

Project PM, which describes itself as “an autonomous online entity” that uses the internet to promote positive change, keeps close tabs on black ops spin doctors such as Qorvis. Its cyber sleuthing has found that Qorvis regularly edits Wikipedia pages to make its clients look better. "QORVIS has its own long history of edits at the site," notes Project PM. "There is a lengthy page of Wikipedia edits for an unnamed user with the IP"
The IP [address] belongs to User was not alone. Another 3 named accounts made their way around the same pages all of which appear to have a connection to QORVIS as clients or staff. As this appears to have a degree of co-ordination behind it, it backs up accounts of online manipulation or 'black arts' from the Geo-Political Solutions division of QORVIS. 
One of the Wikipedia pages that Qorvis has doctored, according to Project PM, is that of Fiji's Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, which its editing history shows to have been altered by a particularly busy person who goes by the handle of "Ratfinx."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A complaint to the Media Authority

25 September 2012

Professor Subramani
Media Tribunal
Media Industry Development Authority
Suva, Fiji


Dear Professor Subramani,

I wish to make a complaint under the Media Industry Development Decree 2010 against Communications Fiji Limited, its reporter Dhanjay Deo, and its News Director Vijay Narayan. The Media Code of Ethics and Practice contained in Schedule 1 of the Decree sets out guidelines for interviewing and for what information journalists may and may not report.

Section 5, “Subterfuge” states: 
Media must use straightforward means to obtain information. . . .  Use of subterfuge, false identity, or covert recording to do so can be justified only in rare circumstances where the material sought ought to be published in the public interest and could not be obtained in any other way.
Section 23, “Interviews” states: 
Interviews for print, electronic media, radio and television must be arranged, conducted, and edited fairly and honestly. Potential interviewees are entitled to know in advance the format, subject, and purpose of their interview. . . .
I wish to complain that Communications Fiji Limited and its reporter Dhanjay Deo used subterfuge in that he did not use straightforward means to obtain information. He also did not arrange an interview with me fairly and honestly, as he did not reveal the true purpose of the interview. In fact, he deceived me as to the true purpose of the interview. I also wish to complain that Communications Fiji Limited and Vijay Narayan published, by broadcasting it on CFL’s radio stations including Legend FM and FM96, and by reporting it on its website, information that was obtained by means that were not straightforward, fair or honest. Specifically, they published comments that I made not in an interview but which I instead made in a complaint to Mr Narayan about my interview with Mr Deo. The facts are as follows.
I received a phone call on 11 September from Legend FM reporter Dhanjay Deo, who asked if I would grant him an interview about the symposium on Media and Democracy in the South Pacific we had held at USP the previous week. I thought that was a bit odd because the symposium had ended five days earlier, but I was happy to oblige. It didn’t take long before I realized that Mr Deo was not interested in talking about our symposium at all, but instead was upset about an interview I had given to Radio Australia the day before. In it, I said that despite the lifting in January of censorship under the Public Emergency Regulation, it was apparent that journalists in Fiji are practicing self-censorship in advance of the first rulings from your Tribunal. Mr Deo thus used subterfuge to obtain an interview with me on a subject other than what he told me he would be interviewing me about.

Mr Deo complained during our interview that my comments had gone out internationally. Had I done any research to back up my claim of self-censorship? What proof did I have for this? No, I told him, I hadn’t done a scientific study on this, but I hoped to do so soon because it seems to be a big problem here. I have spoken with a number of Fiji journalists, I assured him, and from what I could tell there is a climate of fear and uncertainty in the country’s news media currently. Now that they are subject to possible fines and even prison sentences if they take a wrong step in their line of work, there seems to be a natural reluctance on the part of journalists to question authority. It’s not what you see in the Fiji media, I told him, it’s what you don’t see. He kept browbeating me and interrupting me. Where was my proof? Where was my study? I asked him to let me answer his questions, but he kept interrupting me, so I ended the interview. He called me back. I told him I would not speak to him again until he apologized for his rude behavior. He called back again, and again. Each time I refused to talk to him. I then sent an email of complaint to CFL News Director Vijay Narayan.

I soon received a telephone call from Mr Narayan. I told him I have never been treated so rudely by an interviewer in decades of giving media interviews, but he seemed to have no problem with the way his reporter treated me. Where did they get their lessons in interviewing, I asked him, from watching BBC Hardtalk? Suffice it to say I didn’t get very far in my complaint to Mr Narayan. I then noticed that CFL had posted a story on its website, headlined: “Claims made but no proper survey done.” (Attached) It criticised me for having no evidence to back up my claim that self-censorship was widespread among Fiji journalists. The story also played on CFL radio stations, including FM 96 and Legend FM. I felt that this was unfair “gotcha” journalism, and that I had been lied to about the purpose of my interview with Mr Deo.

Mr Narayan then compounded the unethical behaviour by CFL. I noticed in looking at the story online later on 11 September that it had been updated at 5:15 that afternoon. It added this line:

He also said that we were rude and thinks that we are running a newsroom like BBC Hardtalk.

I never said that to Mr Deo in my interview with him. I said that to Mr Narayan in complaining about his reporter’s rudeness. Can a news director add to a reporter’s story something said to him by an interview subject in a complaint about the interviewer? Not under my reading of the Media Code of Ethics and Practice contained in Schedule 1 of the Media Decree. I asked Mr Narayan to preserve the audio of my interview with Mr Deo, as it would prove that a published comment was made not in an interview with his reporter but instead in a telephone call of complaint to him. Mr Narayan informed me that the audio had been erased. He admitted what he did, however, in an email to me of 12 September, a copy of which is attached.

After addressing your complaint about Dhanjay, I resumed the original line of questions that Dhanjay had been unable to complete in his interview with you.

The problem with that explanation is that he did not inform me he was interviewing me. I was obviously, from what Mr Narayan quoted me as saying, not addressing the subject of the original interview. Instead I was complaining about his reporter’s conduct. I would never have agreed to another interview due to the agitated state I was in as a result of what I had just been through. Mr Narayan is thus guilty of unethical behavior for not arranging and conducting an interview openly and fairly and/or for failing to inform me in advance of the format, subject, and purpose of their interview, or even that I was being interviewed for publication and/or broadcast.

As if to confirm that they were conducting a vendetta against me, Communications Fiji Limited, Mr Deo, and Mr Narayan published another story the following day, a copy of which is also attached. It purported to show that self-censorship was not being practiced by journalists in Fiji by interviewing several journalists who denied the practice. It again named me and reported that the managers of several media outlets denied that I had ever spoken to any of their journalists. This subsequent story arguably amounts to deceiving the public in an attempt to further smear me. Journalists could hardly be expected to admit to such a shameful practice self-censorship. Their denying it hardly disproves its existence. Self-censorship among Fiji journalists has been loudly complained of by numerous stakeholders recently. For CFL and its staff to attack me on this issue is cowardly in the extreme.

I believe that what Mr Deo did on 11 September contravened Section 5, “Subterfuge” and/or Section 23, “Interviews” of the Media Code of Ethics and Practice contained in Schedule 1 of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010. I believe that what Mr Narayan did on 11 September also contravened Section 5 and/or Section 23 of the Media Code of Ethics and Practice. I trust that you will impose appropriate penalties on them and on their employer, Communications Fiji Limited. I hope that this would include the broadcast and publishing online of a sincere apology to myself for the unethical treatment to which I have been subject. The broadcast should be given the same prominence and frequency that the original story was given across all of CFL’s stations on which it was broadcast.

The standards of journalism in Fiji badly need improving. My understanding is that this is the intent of the statutory regulations enshrined in the Media Code of Ethics and Practice contained in Schedule 1 of the Media Industry Development Decree 2010. People need to be protected from the type of unethical and now illegal “gutter” journalism practiced by Communications Fiji Limited and at least some of its staff.

I would ask you to require your deputy, Matai Akauola, to recuse himself from dealing with this complaint in any way due to the enmity he has displayed to me in the past.

I look forward to receiving from you a confirmation that this complaint has been received and that it will be given due consideration.


Marc Edge, PhD
Co-ordinator, Discipline of Journalism
University of the South Pacific

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grubby blogger opens up a can of worms on himself

Blowhard blogger Graham Davis, an Australian who likes to describe himself as an “international award-winning journalist,” has gone too far this time. Not only am I starting to fight back (watch out, Fiji Sun), but others are joining the fray as well. Some are objecting to his gutter attacks on me. They point out that the ongoing jihad against me by Davis and others is a case of history repeating itself, with the same types of attacks having been made a decade ago on the head of journalism at USP by some of the very same people.

But the most delicious part of it all is that Davis has left himself wide open to criticism after blowing his own cover by adding a disclaimer to the bottom of his latest blog entry: “Graham Davis is now a part-time advisor to Qorvis Communications.” Perhaps he felt that was something to be proud of, but U.S.-based Qorvis, which advises the military . . . er, interim government in Fiji on public relations matters, has a nasty reputation worldwide. Much of the work Qorvis does on behalf of repressive regimes apparently consists of manipulating social media content, including sending out false information on Twitter, Facebook, and . . . well, blogs.

Some commenters on the Grubsheet blog are saying they knew it all along. “For too long those in the journalism world suspected you were attached to Qorvis,” remarked a reader using the handle Media Consultant. “Graham has outed himself,” crowed Shoepolish. “I find it sad that a once respected journalist has fallen so low,” wrote Bye Bye Aiyarse. Others demanded details of the financial arrangements. “How much are you pocketting every month from the poor of Fiji,” asked Review Commentator. But the poster who got in the most cutting jibes was doubtless the aptly-named Graham is a sell out, who began by insulting Davis with irony. “Congratulations on your new job! It is about time you get paid for your loyal support for Bainimarama and Khaiyum. It is pleasing to see in this new meritocracy that hard work and arse licking is being rewarded.” The poster soon got down to brass tacks, excoriating Davis: “You are a hypocrite of the worst kind.”
To think you once worked for the BBC world service which has a proud tradition of delivering unbiased news to the repressed people of the world. What would your fellow journalists from the BBC have to say about one of their former colleagues being paid to peddle propaganda for a dictator. You have sold out. You are a Judas and you can no longer call yourself a journalist.
To give Davis credit, he allows readers their say, and then gives it back in spades. “There is a strange notion of some kind of conspiracy here,” he replied, insisting: “There is none.” Graham is a sell out saw an opening and pounced. “His career is over as a serious journalist because no longer is he seeking out the truth for his readers,” the poster declared. “He is now paid to manipulate the truth to help keep a dictator in power.”
Understand that every word written from Davis on Fiji from now on will be written to a brief from Qorvis and the Ministry of Information. Every word will now be approved by them. This is nothing new for Davis as he has been working for them unpaid for a number of months in order to get the contract.
Davis protested the purity of his intentions. “It is my opinion that I peddle, not propaganda for the regime, Qorvis or anyone else. My views are genuinely held and heartfelt.” Others then interrupted with side issues what was getting to be a very watchable catfight, and it was almost 24 hours before Graham is a sell out resumed the assault, this time with telling effect.
Graham is a sell out: Can you give me another example of an award winning journalist being paid by a dictator’s PR firm who writes independently and objectively on the dictatorship?
Graham Davis: Were I to have embraced my opinions as a direct result of my relationship with Qorvis, you would have a point. But my support for the multiracial agenda of the Bainimarama government is long-standing and pre-dates the relationship by many years. Nice try, though.
Graham is a sell out: You claim your views have not been changed by payment so let me re-word my question. Can you think of any other award winning journalist who shared exactly the same views and opinions as human rights abusing dictator?
Graham Davis: I will not be interrogated by an anonymous, faceless nobody. I have given you an answer. This is merely rude and gratuitous. Bugger off.
This from the man who took me to task for telling him to “drop dead” when he accused me of hubris. Graham is a sell out was obviously cutting Davis to the quick. I could almost see his porcine visage reddening as he composed his profane reply, with spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. Graham is a sell out kept up the assault, baiting Davis.
Graham is a sell out: I have been taken to the camp for expressing my views and so I wish to remain anonymous.. Though I am a bit of a showoff and I would love to speak openly so I will tell you what. You start exposing the Human Rights abuses of this regime and do some investigative journalism on Fiji, instead of your regime puff pieces, and I will post on grubsheet under my real name.
Graham Davis: Honestly, aren’t we Mr Goody Two Shoes personified. Human rights abuses? What about the abuse of the human rights of 40 per cent of the population by the Qarase Government? You choose to cast me as a spin doctor for the dictator. Fine. But what are you doing to assist Fiji back to democratic rule? Hide behind a mask and spruik self-indulgent, self-righteous cant. Again. Bugger off.
Graham is a sell out had carefully baited the line, providing just enough clues to keep Davis wondering who this was. Now the anonymous commenter deftly dropped the bomb and reeled the grubby one in, hook, line, and stinker.
Graham is a sell out: Maybe the next time I meet you at Dilip’s, I will let slip my true feelings and we can have a debate. Sorry not going to happen because now you are a fully paid up informer of the regime.
Graham Davis: So you are in my social circle but you still haven’t got the guts to reveal yourself. How pathetic is that? . . . Citing a friend of mine like you have is a complete disgrace. My opinions are mine, not his. And to drag him into this shows what a low-life you are.
Graham is a sell out: I know his opinions are not yours. As for me being a low life. That may be true. But I have not sold my principles and my credibility for a few lousy bucks.
Dilip is no doubt Suva lawyer Dilip Jamnadas, who is said to be one of Grubsheet’s prime sources of information. Graham is a sell out must have really struck a nerve with Grubby, because Davis never once again engaged his newfound bête noire on subsequent comments he made on the blog entry that was meant to excoriate me. Instead it seems to have blown up in Grubby’s face in more ways than one. Thanks, I really enjoyed that, Graham is a sell out. But you didn’t have to go to all that trouble. No one seems to have noticed that Davis indicted himself in the very first reply he made to a comment on that blog post. In tut-tutting with my foe Thakur Ranjit Singh, Davis let it slip that he has been paid for some time to launch online attacks against me. “I have nothing personal against Marc Edge,” he started to argue before likely realizing no one would buy that line of twaddle.
No, that’s not true. I am annoyed that he has attacked me publicly for doing my job, and especially for raising the legitimate public interest issue of whether he used his position as a senior USP academic to gain a personal benefit from a commercial entity.
Davis was referring, of course, to the Fiji Timesadvertorial” I appeared in touting the Suva Point Apartments, which he claimed was unethical for a journalism educator. He demanded to know if I had received anything in return for my endorsement of the new apartment complex on Fletcher Road in Vatuwaqa, where I was the first tenant to move in and which I highly reccomend to anyone. I pointedly ignored his demand until he threatened to take it up with the USP hierarchy and to launch a complaint against the Times with the Media Authority. To save those busy people from being bothered by Grubby, I happily denied taking anything from the Times. He and others have ever since been demanding to know if I received anything from my landlord in exchange for appearing in the article, which I have again ignored, but which I will be happy to deny now.

But it was last May when Graham attacked me for this and other things. He claims his blog is just a “hobby.” But he now admits he has been annoyed with me for some time for fighting back against his blog attacks, or as he puts it, “for doing my job.” Well, a job is something you get paid for, right? It seems the Qorvis quid pro quo has been going on for awhile. Gotcha again, Graham.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Journalists themselves admit there is no self-censorship

Well, I guess that settles that. There is no self-censorship in the Fiji news media, according to CFL. At least that’s the conclusion they have come to after interviewing several of their fellow journalists. This is great news. A lot of needless concern will now be alleviated. Personally, I am greatly relieved that this is settled because, frankly, I was getting worried.

I don't know how I could have been so wrong. And not just me, of course, but others. Like Permanent Secretary for Information Sharon Smith-Johns. Why else would she have urged Fiji journalists to “report fully and without fear or favour” and to not use the Media Decree “as an excuse not to do their jobs.” And apparently other folks have also had their facts backwards, too. Like Matilda Bogner, the United Nations Human Rights representative for the Pacific. She actually DID do a study on this subject for World Press Freedom Day in May. Here's what she said.
It appears that a culture of self-censorship continues to exist for journalists in Fiji. A preliminary media content analysis conducted recently by my office, comparing Fiji’s two main daily newspapers, the Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun, before and after the lifting of the PER, suggests that there has been no distinguishable change in the level of criticism of the Fiji Government observed in either newspaper.
Then there are the women's rights groups in Fiji that say they had newspaper advertisements rejected that highlighted issues concerning the ongoing constitutional review process. Shamima Ali of the Fiji's Women's Crisis Centre said two weeks ago that both daily newspapers in Fiji told them to tone down the language in the ads.
"One of them wanted to have a meeting to tone down the ad, which we refused to do, and a spokesperson from there said 'I hope you understand'," she said. "The other said 'sorry we can't', after deliberating on it for nearly two and a half days."
Talk about a climate of fear. They're even reportedly turning down advertising, which newspapers rarely do. And just yesterday, the Fiji Labour Party demonstrated that it, too, was labouring under an illusion in its submission to the Contitutional Commission hearings. "The media in Fiji continues to operate as though it is still under strict censorship," it said. "Indeed, the environment is still quite substantially coercive and threatening." It cited the Television (Amendment) Decree 52, under which the licence of any television station that contravenes the 2010 Media Decree can be revoked by the minister responsible without appeal, as an example of press intimidation. "We do not have an independent, free, liberated media in Fiji. The fines for incurring the wrath of the regime are so excessive that no media organization would dare fall foul of it."
The repercussions of such a cowed media are fatal for the success of a “free and open” consultation process. Articles, opinions or comments that question the regime or oppose its views are rarely, if ever, run. For instance, not a single mention was made in the news pages of the Fiji Times of the Constitution Commission’s media conference held on 19 July 2012. The Fiji Times ran a feature article two days later buried in the inside pages of its publication. How many people would have read the strong criticism voiced by Commission Chair Professor Yash Ghai, particularly of Decrees 57 and 58?
At our symposium last week, the topic of self-censorship became a bit of a sore point. CFL news director Vijay Narayan, who never responded to my attempts to recruit him to sit on a panel on this topic at our symposium, appeared anyway in his role as a journalist and made a speech from the front row. "Everyone who is commenting on claims that there is widespread self-censorship in the country are making comments without any proper surveys conducted with journalists and media outlets,” he said. To which Fiji Times lawyer Richard Naidu deliciously retorted: “To suggest that the media is not operating under a set of self-censorship rules means that one of us is on the wrong planet.” Watch the video here. In reporting on this controversy today, Alex Perrottet interviewed Fiji TV's legal manager, Tanya Waqanika, who said that Fiji journalists are still afraid to ask tough questions because of the penalties contained in the Media Decree. “The journalists, they see the penalties,” she told Perrottet. "If you were in that situation, and there’s a court case currently against the Fiji Times, for any person, it freaks them out. No one wants to be fined.” Perrottet, who is researching his Master's thesis on this topic at Auckland University of Technology, even gave us a preview of his research on AUT's website Pacific Media Centre.
There is extensive evidence that due to censorship, the print media in Fiji is suffering from self-censorship, as they are not sure where the line will be drawn by the government.
So I don't know why CFL is shooting at me every day. I'm not even the messenger. I'm only an educator. And I obviously have a lot of work to do.

Well, it didn’t take long to answer THAT question!

The day after I posted my last blog entry, I got a phone call from Legend FM reporter Dhanjay Deo, who asked if I would grant him an interview about our symposium on Media and Democracy in the South Pacific last week. I thought that was a bit odd, because it had ended five days earlier, but I was happy to oblige. I am always happy to help journalists in Fiji do their jobs. It didn’t take long before I realized that Mr. Deo was not interested in talking about our symposium, which was a huge success, but instead had a bee in his bonnet about an interview I had given to Bruce Hill of Radio Australia the day before. (Bruce gets me into so much trouble. It’s a wonder I still talk to him.) Deo complained that my comments about media self-censorship in Fiji had gone out internationally. Had I done any research to back up this claim? What proof did I have for this? No, I told him, I hadn’t done a scientific study on this, but I hoped to soon because this seems to be a big problem here. I have spoken with a number of Fiji journalists, I assured him, and from what I can tell, there is a tremendous climate of fear and uncertainty in the country’s news media after the lifting of censorship in January. Now that they are instead subject to provisions of the 2010 Media Decree, which provides fines and even prison sentences for reporters who take a wrong step in their line of work, there seems to be a natural reluctance to question authority. It’s not what you see in the Fiji media, I told him, it's what you don’t see. You don’t see any hard-hitting journalism. Well, I guess he decided to prove me wrong. He kept browbeating me and interrupting me. Where was my proof? Where was my scientific study? I asked him to let me answer his questions, but he had become like a mad dog by then, so I had to hang up. He called me back. I told him I would not speak to him again until he apologized for his rude behavior. He called back again, and again. Each time I refused to talk to him. I then fired off an email of complaint to his boss, Communication Fiji Limited news director Vijay Narayan.

Soon my phone rang again. I fully expected it to be Dhanjay Deo, given that he had called me back a half dozen times or so by then. Instead it was Vijay Narayan. I told him I have never been treated so rudely by an interviewer in decades of giving media interviews, but he seemed to have no problem with the way his reporter treated me. Where did they get their lessons in interviewing, I asked him, from watching BBC Hardtalk? Suffice it to say I didn’t get very far with Mr. Narayan. Then I saw that CFL had posted the story on its website, headlining it “Claims made but no proper survey done.” It basically skewered me for having no evidence to back up my contention that self-censorship was rampant among Fiji journalists. The story also played on the various CFL radio stations, including FM 96, in addition to Legend FM. That’s OK. I can take a bit of “gotcha” journalism. They’re sore at me for criticizing the news media. They’ve taken a lot of heat. Let ’em get it out of their system. I can take it.

But then Vijay Narayan went too far. I noticed in looking at the story online later that it had been updated at 5:15 that afternoon. It added this line:
He also said that we were rude and thinks that we are running a newsroom like BBC Hardtalk.
There’s only one small problem with that. I never said that to Dhanjay Deo. I said that to Vijay Narayan in complaining about his reporter’s rudeness. Can a news director add to a story something said to him by an interview subject in a complaint about the interviewer? Not under my reading of the Media Decree, which sets out some strict guidelines for what journalists can report. Under Section 5, “Subterfuge,” it states: 
Media must use straightforward means to obtain information. . . .  Use of subterfuge, false identity, or covert recording to do so can be justified only in rare circumstances where the material sought ought to be published in the public interest and could not be obtained in any other way.
Publishing comments made in a complaint by a disgruntled interview subject hardly seems like a straightforward means of obtaining information. But wait, it gets better . . .er, worse for Vijay Narayan. Take a look at Section 23, “Interviews.”
Interviews for print, electronic media, radio and television must be arranged, conducted, and edited fairly and honestly. Potential interviewees are entitled to know in advance the format, subject, and purpose of their interview. . . .
Vijay Narayan freely admits what he did. “After addressing your complaint about Dhanjay, I resumed the original line of questions that Dhanjay had been unable to complete in his interview with you,” he told me in an email. The problem with that, of course, is that he didn’t inform me he was interviewing me. I was obviously, from what Narayan quoted me as saying, still complaining about his reporter's conduct and not addressing the subject of the original interview. I would never have agreed to another interview after what I had just been through. So while Dhanjay Deo was guilty of merely being rude and overly aggressive, Vijay Narayan may be guilty of something much worse – an offence under the Media Decree. The matter is now in the hands of CFL Managing Director William Parkinson. If he can get his staff straightened out, and if a suitable apology is issued – and broadcast – that will be the end of it. If not, it will become a matter for the Media Authority. By great good coincidence, we just happen to be studying the Media Decree in my Media Law class soon. This promises to be better than Defamation Week.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Do journalism standards in Fiji need raising?

One of the points of contention that emerged from our symposium on Media and Democracy in the South Pacific at USP last week was whether the standards of journalism in Fiji need raising or not. As usual, the topic became one of bitter disagreement. My understanding when I was hired as Head of Journalism at USP a little more than a year ago was that I was here to help bring standards of journalism instruction at USP up to an international level and thus help to improve journalism in Fiji and across the South Pacific. Having been a journalist in Canada for 20 years, holding a PhD in the subject, and having taught journalism since 1998 at universities in four countries, I am well-qualified to do so. I believe that the need for higher standards in journalism here is USP's official position, as articulated by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Esther Williams in opening the conference. David Robie, a Professor of Journalism at Auckland University of Technology and a former Head of Journalism at USP, disagreed with this contention, however. Then he read a Fiji Times article that covered a paper he had presented. Suddenly Fiji journalism standards didn’t seem too good, as he complained in a letter to the editor.
Your reporter has given no insights into what it is actually about. My interview with your reporter has been reduced to two selective sentences in your newspaper, which is hardly fair and balanced journalism. “Why” is a fundamental tenet of news reporting yet your story does not provide this critical component of any good news story -- context.
The need for Fiji journalism to improve was even stressed by Sharon Smith-Johns, Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Information, who until earlier this year acted as the country's chief censor under the Public Emergency Regulation, which imposed martial law on the country in 2009. In what was undoubtedly the most important message to come out of the symposium, she urged journalists in Fiji to not let the past three years of censorship be an excuse for failing to fully inform Fijians. 
You will hear a lot about self censorship, the notion that journalists in Fiji are too afraid to report fully and without fear or favour. Such fears are understandable in the transition from censorship to freedom. But I urge journalists not to use this as an excuse not to do their jobs. . . . I know some of you have a jaundiced view about the Fiji government's attitude to media freedom. As a country, we are a work in progress. But huge progress has been in achieving genuine democracy.
The naysayers, of course, blame the news media for fomenting the political instability that led to the 2000 coup and advocate tight controls such as contained in the 2010 Media Decree. It provides fines for what were once ethical lapses and even prison sentences for journalists found to have reported something contrary to the national interest, whatever that is. Australian blogger Graham Davis dubbed last week's symposium "Edgefest" and attacked me online and in the Fiji Sun for advocating "total freedom for the local media at a time of intense discussion over the appropriate model for developing countries such as Fiji." He contrasted that with the views of my predecessor as Head of Journalism at USP, Shailendra Singh, who "has advocated more social responsibility."

What Davis does, of course, is hardly journalism. He is, instead, an attack dog devoted to hounding anyone who questions any actions of the Interim Government in Fiji. To suggest that I am not in favour of social responsibility in journalism is a  distortion of the truth. Instead I teach students the need to balance press freedom with responsibility. As an object lesson of the need for social responsibility, I use the example of Yellow Journalism that railroaded the U.S. government into the Spanish-American War in 1898. I often mention how history repeated itself when the U.S. press didn't do its job well enough in the run-up to that country's invasion of Iraq in 2003. I also use the example of press freedom in my country, where it is not absolute as under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but instead is balanced against the rights of others in society not to be subject to hate speech.

If you want to see for yourself some of the discussion that went on at our symposium, as well as interviews with our Chief Guest, Professor Robert Hackett from Canada, and myself, I would suggest watching Fiji TV's excellent "Close Up" programme from Sunday, which can be viewed online here, here, and here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

And so we have a new decree

No sooner did I post my last entry than word came down that the interim government had promulgated a new decree affecting the Fiji media. It's the Television Amendment Decree and it can be downloaded here. The main effect is to allow for the revocation of the licence of any television station that contravenes the Media Decree. Coming on the heels of the A-G's alleged stoush with Fiji TV, it is hard to believe that this new decree is unrelated. The A-G claims it is necessary to ensure that all television licensees comply with the Media Code of Ethics and Practice under the Media Decree. As I told Radio New Zealand, however, it does seem like a bit of double jeopardy. Not only are TV stations subject to fines for violating the Code of Ethics and to having their journalists thrown in prison, now they can be put out of business as well. That wouldn't apply to a newspaper or a radio station that violated the Media Decree. The other odd aspect of this decree is that it expressly prohibits recourse to the courts for appeal, which makes the minister's decision on licence revocation final, as I pointed out to Radio Australia. This is fairly unprecedented, I believe, as most regulatory decisions in other countries at least allow for an appeal to the courts or to Cabinet.

The Fiji Labour Party blasted the decree, asking if Fiji is becoming a "police state."
The FLP finds this absolutely abhorrent. “This shows that Fiji is regressing further into being an authoritarian State rather than moving towards democracy as promised by the regime,” said Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry. . . . Justice and fair play demand that an aggrieved party must have the right to seek legal redress against any action or policy of the State. Yet, the people of Fiji are being increasingly and systemically denied this fundamental right by a regime that does not hesitate to use ‘blackmailing’ tactics to silence all opposition by gagging the media.
The reaction on the blogs has been predictably furious, and the depth of the anger exhibited has been  unlike anything I have seen in my admittedly short time here. According to Fiji Democracy Now, this latest move is "draconian" and "totalitarian." Fiji Today called it "TV control (if not censorship)." But over at Coup 4.5 the reaction was downright murderous, not so much on the blog as in the comments, some of which even pointed to online recipes for bomb-making. This has been rightly denounced by the pro-regime blog Grubsheet and others. Meanwhile, fears for Fiji TV's licence renewal proved unfounded, as July 1 came and it was still on the air. Fiji Today had decried the uncertainty surrounding the licence renewal in light of the fact that Fiji TV is a publicly traded company. "In most countries the stock market would suspend trading if such a vital element of a listed companies business was not certain 24 hours before it must cease transmitting." Coup 4.5 even reported that Fiji TV was"making contingency plans to end its service at midnight this Saturday." That may have been true, but when Sunday came and Fiji TV's regular religious programming appeared, C4.5's credibility took another hit. Except that it did point out that the pressure on Fiji TV, real or imagined, gave an advantage to its competitor FBC, which just happens to be run by the A-G's little brother. Later that day, Coup 4.5 had an expose by Victor Lal, the exiled Fiji dissident now at Oxford, who claimed to have the inside scoop on the younger Khaiyum's appointment and on FBC's recent injection of $22 million in government assistance. 

Ah, fun and games! Let's see how this one plays out.